PUBLISHED: 1:20 PM on Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Gestational diabetes a risk for pregnant women

Courtesy Photo
  A healthy diet is a key component to controlling the blood sugar levels in pregnant women who have gestational diabetes.
According to the American Diabetes Association, about 4 percent of all pregnant women in the United States are diagnosed with gestational diabetes. It is a type of diabetes that starts during pregnancy (usually between the 24th and 28th week) when the body is unable to make and use all the insulin it needs for pregnancy. And without enough insulin, glucose (blood sugar) cannot leave the blood and be changed to energy, causing a dangerous situation for both mother and baby.

Most women with gestational diabetes have no symptoms indicating the presence of the disease, though it's possible to experience extreme hunger, thirst or fatigue. You are at increased risk if you are over age 30, obese, have a family or personal history of diabetes or previously gave birth to a baby who weighs more than 9 pounds or was stillborn. That's why you'll probably be screened for gestational diabetes between the 24 and 28 week of pregnancy, when gestational diabetes can begin.

If you have gestational diabetes, here's what's happening inside your body. Your glucose levels continue to rise from inadequate production of insulin.

The extra glucose can pass through the placenta to your fetus, subsequently causing high sugar levels in your baby. Receiving more energy than it needs at this stage in life, your baby stores the extra energy as fat, creating a larger-than-normal baby, or macrosomia.

These babies may grow so large that a vaginal delivery becomes unlikely. In addition, they may have jaundice, low glucose levels and be at higher risk for breathing problems.

Treatment for gestational diabetes needs to be started immediately. It may include a special diet, regular exercise, insulin injections and/or regular blood tests. Your doctor will devise a plan that is safe and healthy for you and your unborn baby.

Gestational diabetes usually goes away after pregnancy. But it does put these women at a higher risk for developing diabetes in their next pregnancy and later in life.

The best ways to prevent the future onset of diabetes are to lose weight, eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly.